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FDP Forum / Guitar Mods, Repairs, and Projects / Rickenbacker Bass Makeover (long)

Te 52

Laws of Physics

strictly enforced
Dec 1st, 2017 01:34 PM   Edit   Profile   Print Topic   Search Topic

Had a chance to pick up a Rickenbacker 4003S bass in natural maple with white guard at a price I just could not turn down, so I grabbed it.

I had never worked on a Rickenbacker before, but I knew they had a reputation of being um, quirky. I soon found that to be true, here are just a few examples:

* The body and pickguard have NO shielding whatsoever. None.
* Pickups are single coil, but not RWRP, so not humbucking in the middle position
* The nut is an odd thickness and very tall, not matching any commonly available blank. Also, the material, according to Rickenbacker, is bakelite.
* The strap buttons are not secured with wood screws, but have integral studs with *machine screw* threads that are threaded into the body wood end grain. No slot or recess for a driver, I guess they’re installed with padded pliers
* The neck has two truss rods side-by-side – not a bad thing, but unusual.
* The dish in the jack plate is so narrow in diameter that a standard socket or box end wrench will not engage the jack nut.
* At the bridge, intonation adjustment is ridiculously difficult. String heights cannot be adjusted individually. Thumbscrew-operated rubber mute is clumsy and gives uneven muting string-to-string. Also, the cast zinc body of the bridge tends to bend and lift away from the bass body.
* Has a chrome-plated plastic bridge pickup cover which gets in the way of the right hand. But if removed, it leaves a HUGE gaping hole around the pickup.

And yet their devotees love them. On to my project, lots of pictures at the link below.

I wasn’t too crazy about the white-on-white color scheme, so I started by making a new tortoise/B/W/B pickguard. The original Ric pickguard had no bevel on the edges, but I used a 22.5 degree bevel to show off the B/W/B laminations.

For symmetry, the tortoise pickguard called for a new truss rod cover -- the original was white -- which I made out of an offcut of the pickguard material. I found a vendor that made me a white vinyl sticker of the Rickenbacker logo, I applied it, and sealed it in place with about 20 coats of rattle-can polyurethane.

I gave the body cavities three coats of carbon shielding paint and fully shielded the back of the new pickguard with copper foil.

Ditched the original bridge for a very nice Hipshot replacement. Intonation and action adjustment problems solved.

A lot of people like a very clangy, trebly Ric tone – think Geddy Lee -- but I favor something closer to McCartney’s mellow “Abbey Road” tone, which calls for flats. I decided on a set of nylon tape-wound Rotosound strings. The low E string on these is huge -- .125” diameter . I wanted to keep the original rather crude nut in case I ever need to return the bass to stock, so I fashioned a new nut out of a slab of black Tusq. First time I’d worked with that material, and I liked it. Easy to saw and sand, though it does tend to clog nut files quickly -- need to keep that brass bristle brush handy. Also, it’s so slippery that it resists being glued in place, so I just let it sit, held by string tension.

After removing the plastic bridge pickup cover, I fashioned a surround out of aluminum plate to fill the resulting gap around the pickup and painted it black. I have since learned that there is an available chrome-plated plastic part to do the same thing, but it’s quite pricey at $40.

The Ric doesn’t offer much of a place to anchor a thumb, but there’s a company called Zero-Mod that makes a thumbrest that attaches using existing pickguard screws. I couldn’t see paying $39 for a piece of plastic, so I copied their design and made one myself out of a scrap of acrylic. If I decide I like it, I’ll probably make a new one out of black ABS and cap it with some of the pickguard tortoise material to make it less conspicuous.

I thought about using vintage-style all-black knobs with just a white indicator line, but they looked too plain, so I went back to the knobs with silver center insert.

To install/remove the output jack, I ground down the outer circumference of a ½” nut driver so it was thin enough to engage the nut.

Put it all back together, did a complete setup, and the bass looks good to my eye and plays very nicely.

So I can confirm that Rics are indeed quirky to downright weird, but I have to say, damn, this thing sounds good. Rich, warm tones, great sustain, and a delight to play. I think it’s going to be around for a while.

Ric Mod Pix

(This message was last edited by Te 52 at 11:26 PM, Dec 3rd, 2017)

Hammond101
Contributing Member
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So. Cal. USA

Dec 1st, 2017 05:16 PM   Edit   Profile   Print Topic   Search Topic

Very nice work. I agree that these things are a bit weird. I was brought one of their 4003 models that they were selling "unfinished". Nothing! no sealer, paint, lacquer, nada. Bare necked wood!

I set it up after a requested sealing with several coats of boiled linseed oil and a bit of rubbing. I took the bass completely apart for this. I wanted the sealer consistent over the entire instrument. Everything had to come off.

It also had no radius where the top of the fret board meets the side of the neck. It was so sharp it would almost cut you. This had to be corrected and the fret ends smoothed out to make the bass playable. The frets would cut you.

I've really never seen such a strange guitar offered for sale in its factory condition.

Your mods are usable and tidy. Great job.

Pinetree
Moderator Emeritus
(with many stars)

NW Pennsylvania

Dec 1st, 2017 05:29 PM   Edit   Profile   Print Topic   Search Topic

Nice!



vomer
Contributing Member
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Broke Down

in the Brassicas
Dec 1st, 2017 06:53 PM   Edit   Profile   Print Topic   Search Topic

Lovely. Some very nice skills there in shaping all that plastic.

I certainly enjoyed the 4001 I had in recently. They are... different... but in a good way.

TinPan

USA

Dec 2nd, 2017 07:05 AM   Edit   Profile   Print Topic   Search Topic

I had a 4001 in the 70's, loved it, never had a problem. Never had to have it serviced


Peegoo
Contributing Member
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******

Roisin, I wanna

fight your father
Dec 2nd, 2017 07:28 AM   Edit   Profile   Print Topic   Search Topic

I like the Ricky tone. But I also like P and J bass too.

Rickenbackers appear to have been designed by a hermit that lives in a cave on a deserted island: there is virtually no acknowledgement of or a nod to conventional electric guitar design. That double truss rod is intended to correct a neck twist if one ever develops, but it really doesn't work well in that case. I attribute this quirkiness to the fact that Rickenbacker (Rickenbacher, actually) were the first to develop and mass produce electrified guitars.

They have stuck to their guns--using their own hardware and construction--while others like Fender and Gibson simplified and improved the various design elements and hardware components over time.

One good thing about Rickenbacker tho. It was Francis Hall (CEO of Rickenbacker) who convinced Don Randall (Chief of Fender Sales) in the early 1950s to get Leo to use a truss rod in Fender's new electric guitar that became the Telecaster. Leo was dead-set against using a truss rod because it added production costs. He also--mistakenly--assumed the maple necks would remain stable without them.

Despite all that weirdness, I have a Rick 660, and it is a fine guitar that does the famous jangle like no other guitar can.


wrnchbndr
Contributing Member
**********
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New Jersey

I'm back with the otters again
Dec 2nd, 2017 07:59 AM   Edit   Profile   Print Topic   Search Topic

I really like your mods and the final result is a damn fine looking ric. I love the look of rics but they stubbornly cling to odd hardware and weird things. I find it odd that no major company cloned the "ric look" successfully and there isn't anything out there like a Squire Ric, an Epi Ric. I'm certainly not complaining. You have an really nice bass there. Where do you get your tortoise shell?

Peegoo
Contributing Member
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******

Roisin, I wanna

fight your father
Dec 2nd, 2017 08:41 AM   Edit   Profile   Print Topic   Search Topic

That bass does look better than original. Nice work, Te52.

Te 52

Laws of Physics

strictly enforced
Dec 2nd, 2017 09:52 AM   Edit   Profile   Print Topic   Search Topic

"...Where do you get your tortoise shell?..."

Musiclily on Amazon (link). Absolutely no complaints, drills and routs beautifully and looks terrific.

click me

Cal-Woody

USA/California

Why do I keep fixing things that work?
Dec 2nd, 2017 09:54 AM   Edit   Profile   Print Topic   Search Topic

The rework you did on that bass is freaking awesome!
And the bridge you put on is Sweet!
Really nice work!

Pinetree
Moderator Emeritus
(with many stars)

NW Pennsylvania

Dec 2nd, 2017 07:56 PM   Edit   Profile   Print Topic   Search Topic

Not an actual Ric but pretty cool.


Plus he's funky.

YouTubage

wrnchbndr
Contributing Member
**********
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New Jersey

I'm back with the otters again
Dec 2nd, 2017 08:37 PM   Edit   Profile   Print Topic   Search Topic

The tortoise looks absolutely correct. I'm looking for solid no-ply celluloid around .080 to .090. I just used the last bit I had. I can find it but am always looking for a way to get it cheaper cuz its damned expensive. But nothing looks like the real thing as far as I've seen. You just need to be careful with it.

Maybe I can get a bunch of people together and buy a whole sheet or two or three.

henrycat
Contributing Member
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Ch'town, PEI, Canada

He said he was a wit. He was half right.
Dec 3rd, 2017 06:58 AM   Edit   Profile   Print Topic   Search Topic

Great mods! I like it. (:>)

Te 52

Laws of Physics

strictly enforced
Dec 3rd, 2017 11:45 AM   Edit   Profile   Print Topic   Search Topic

"...I'm looking for solid no-ply celluloid around .080 to .090...I can find it but am always looking for a way to get it cheaper cuz its damned expensive. But nothing looks like the real thing as far as I've seen...."

Check out woodtoworks.com in Canada. They sell a 12" x 18" x .080" sheet of solid brown celluloid tortoise for $60 Canadian, which is around 28¢/sq. in.

WD Music claims to have "FULL SHEET SOLID TORTOISE SHELL STYLE 24 X 52 X .070 (CELLULOID)" for $290, or 23¢/sq. in., but it's only .070" thick and I don't know what it looks like.

If you're willing to consider acrylic with a more "marbled" look, rothkoandfrost.com sells an 11.8" x 9.8" x .080" sheet of solid brown tortoise for $40.40, around 35¢/sq. in.

You'll have to be the judge as to whether these meet your needs for appearance.

for example

wrnchbndr
Contributing Member
**********
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New Jersey

I'm back with the otters again
Dec 3rd, 2017 06:35 PM   Edit   Profile   Print Topic   Search Topic

Thanks Te. I just really like the celluloid. 12 X 18 for for $60 is a good price and I'll check it out. Nothing compares if you're trying to capture a vintage look.

Te 52

Laws of Physics

strictly enforced
Dec 3rd, 2017 07:13 PM   Edit   Profile   Print Topic   Search Topic

And of course, $60 Canadian is only $48 US. There's shipping, of course, but that is still the best price I'm aware of. You might want to act fast, I see the web page says one piece in stock.

Te 52

Laws of Physics

strictly enforced
Dec 4th, 2017 12:08 PM   Edit   Profile   Print Topic   Search Topic

Whoa, breaking news! Found another source on amazon which appears to be single ply, 11.4" x 16.9" x .072"-.088" in vintage, dark brown or red tortoise for $18.99/sheet (10¢/sq. in.). Material is not specified.

Have NO idea about the quality but has one 5-star review. The vintage tortoise color and pattern looks really nice. At that price, I might buy a sheet just to check it out, although I don't really have a need for it.

click me

(This message was last edited by Te 52 at 02:08 PM, Dec 4th, 2017)

FDP Forum / Guitar Mods, Repairs, and Projects / Rickenbacker Bass Makeover (long)




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